Believe it or not, but your forearms are some of the most complicated muscles in the entire human body. Your forearms are responsible for a wide variety of tasks, giving movement to the elbow, wrist, and your fingers. Forearm specific exercises, help you develop grip strength, by contracting your flexor and extensor muscles. Handgrip strength is often used as an indicator of overall muscle strength as well as current and future health. Think about it. You need grip strength for literally everything. Picking up your groceries, grabbing your phone, or even picking up your water bottle. When it comes to weight-lifting hand grip is one of the quickest ways to bigger lifts and loading more plates onto the barbell. You may be strong enough to lift a heavy plate-loaded deadlift off the ground, but it doesn’t matter now if you can’t hold onto the barbell. We’re going to talk more about the best forearm exercises and workout, to help you improve your health and performance.
Without cracking open an anatomy textbook, let’s cover some of the basics about the muscles in the forearms, so you can be more familiar with how your forearms work and what muscles you’ll specifically be targeting.
Your forearms are broadly divided into two segments: the anterior flexor and the posterior extensor compartments. The deep fascia of the forearm encircles the radius and ulna bone.
The muscles of the forearm or antebrachium work together to move the elbow, forearm, wrist, and fingers. Forearm muscles into two categories: intrinsic and extrinsic muscles. Intrinsic muscles function to move the forearm by pronating and supinating the radius and ulna. The extrinsic muscles of the forearm flex and extend your fingers The brachioradialis, traverses the elbow joint, running from the arm to the wrist, and helps flex the elbow.
Exercises focused on developing your forearms, will build more grip strength. Grip strength is simply a measurement of how much force and power you can create with your forearms and hand muscles to grip an object.
Training protocols, such as powerlifting, bodybuilding, and high-intensity functional training like CrossFit all require grip strength to compete and lift heavy. A grueling metcon can leave you fatigued and slow you down especially as your chipping away in the workout round after round. Having good grip strength is crucial to focus on proper form and push yourself through your training.
In fact, a study published in the Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research found that hand grip strength is a predictor of muscle strength and endurance [R]. Beyond fitness however, grip strength is also an indicator of overall health. Research has shown that low grip strength is associated with chronic comorbidities, functional disabilities, and even death [R].
A meta-analysis and review of twelve studies found that a 5kg decrease in grip strength was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease [R].
Adding in some forearm exercises into your workout, can greatly benefit your athletic performance as well as your overall health.
Although the forearms are a small muscle, they have a large impact on other exercises. Stronger forearms, will enable you to grip heavier weight, lift a plate loaded barbell, and hang onto the pull up bar a little longer.
With a few added forearm exercises, you’ll see sizable gains in compound movements, such as the deadlift, bench press, and pull ups.
Skipping forearm exercises, can increase your risk for weaker grip strength and unbalanced arm aesthetic. Unfortunately, pulling exercises, do not isolate your forearms well enough as secondary muscles as compared to the primary muscles being worked. Additionally, your forearms also compete with your biceps, as the secondary muscle activator.
The Zottman curl is primarily a bicep exercise, however it’s also a great forearm exercise. Zottman curl works the anterior flexor and posterior extensor in the forearms. The real benefit of the Zottman curl is that the eccentric segment of each rep contracts the biceps (biceps brachii and brachialis) and the concentric phase targets the forearms (brachioradialis and brachialis muscles).
- Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand.
- Rotate your wrists into a supinated position (palms facing upwards). Arms fully extended and resting by your sides.
- Place your feet shoulder-width apart to establish a solid base.
- Contract and isolate your biceps as hard as you can and curl the dumbbells upwards as you bend your elbows.
- Pause at the top of the movement.
- Rotate your wrists into a pronated position (palms facing the floor).
- Slowly lower and de-load down until your arms are extended.
- Twist the dumbbells back into the starting position as described above (palms facing upwards) for the next rep
- Repeat for the desired number of reps
Think of a twisting curl as a combination between the hammer curl and the standard curl. Twisting curls are dumbbell curls that add a slight modification and twist as you shorten your muscle and contract towards your shoulders. This modification can better target your biceps brachii and induce greater changes in muscle strength and hypertrophy. The twisting dumbbell curl is considered an isolated movement, however can also target the forearms, with the twist and roll of the wrist on the eccentric phase of the movement.
- Grab a pair of dumbbells with one in each hand.
- Start in a hammer curl position keeping your arms long and by your sides and chest up.
- As you start the movement, drives your thurms up and curl and twist on the way up and down.
- For even more emphasis curl into your shoulder as you reach the top of the lift for better contraction.
Hammer curls are a bicep curl variation, that targets and isolates the long head or outer bicep as well as the forearms. Hammer curls are traditionally and or most commonly performed with dumbbells, however you can use the cable pulley, which can effectively target the forearms.
- Stand with your legs straight, and knees aligned under your hips.
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and start with them your sides, with palms faced toward you.
- Bend at the elbow and curl the dumbbell either alternating or both at the same time.
- Lift the lower distal portion of your arm towards your shoulders and curl the weight.
- Hold for a one second count at the top of the movement contracting your biceps, then release and lower your arms back to starting position.
The farmer’s carry, farmer’s walk, and loaded walks are wonderful ways to increase overall stability, strength, and improve exercise conditioning. Farmers carry can help increase grip strength and develop your flexors and extensors.
- Start in the standing position with your weights to the side of your body. Shoulders should be over the feet.
- Squat down like you’re going to deadlift, with your hands to the side, chest up, shoulders back.
- Grab your weights firmly, stand straight up, and while maintaining tight core and active shoulders, set your eyes forward and begin to take small controlled steps, trying not to use the side-to-side bobbing motion to create momentum to move forward.
- Perform the walk for 20’ – 50’, set your equipment down, take a quick break, then repeat.
Although the deadlift is not a primary forearm exercise, (far from it), it does help with grip strength, and recruit some of the muscles within the forearms, to help on the pull.
Deadlifts are a compound movement, that target the muscles in your posterior chain.
Deadlifts have many known full body benefits and are extremely crucial in the development of total-body strength, proper hip function, core strength, and spine stabilization (which can reduce the risk of lower back injuries). Since deadlifts recruit multiple muscle groups, joints, and stabilizing muscles, they also burn more calories and more body fat as compared to other exercise movements. With the proper form, the deadlift can add a ton of performance and health benefits, to your training program.
- Stand with feet hip- to shoulder-width apart. Rest your shins against the bar.
- Hinge at the hips and sink back into your glutes while keeping your spine extended and chest lifted up toward the ceiling.
- Grip the bar with one hand facing palm-up and the other hand facing palm-down. This over-under grip is for safety and can keep the bar from rolling out of your hands.
- Squeeze the bar with your hands as you sink back into your hips. As you sink into your hips, think about pulling your back and down to engage the lats. This will help keep your low-back stable.
- For the pull:
- Push your feet into the floor to straighten your legs and lift your chest as you lift the weight off the floor. As you stand up, think about pulling back on your knees and pushing your hips forward.
- Finally, for the lockout:
- At the top of the movement, hold your shoulders back as you keep your spine straight and tall. Pause for a moment before descending into the lowering phase.
- Slowly push your hips back while keeping your spine long and chest lifted into the air.
- Use your thigh muscles to resist the downward pull of gravity as the weight lowers back to the floor.
- At the bottom, pause, reset your hips and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Your forearms may be small, but they can have a huge impact on your performance, as well as total body aesthetic and training. Focusing on your wrist rolls, while you bicep curl, and ensuring you are working through each muscle group, as you perform the above exercises, will help build stronger forearms.
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